Thomas Morton and the Puritans
An anti-"city on a hill" with a maypole compensating for something? A pleasurable refuge for indentured servants freed from service and respected natives? A place where a man just wanted to annoy his uptight, religious neighbors? Those are the obvious conclusions, but with like most anything in history, there's meaning and significance that we don't catch at first glance. Thomas Morton had an agenda, puritan leader John Winthrop may have had a secret, and there are so many fictions surrounding their whole story, it's hard to tell what's reality and what's not. It's time to sift through the parts, and piece together a bigger picture, asking one, main question: Why were Morton and the Puritans engaged in a seemingly never-ending conflict with each other?
As a beginning part, it's best to see how a few, high profile people involved related to one another: Thomas Morton, William Bradford, and John Winthrop. Morton came to the New England area on the ship, Unity in 1624, under a man named, Captain Wollaston. It's important to note that he wasn't a young, drunken fool at the time. He was in his forties, was a lawyer back in England, and a well read "gentleman and a person of means" (American National Biography Site). The trouble began for the Puritans when he realized he could profit from the fur-trading business by partnering with the indentured servants of the formed, Mount Wollaston settlement. Through legal means he freed them from their contracts and took over. According to John P. McWilliams, in his article, "The Fictions of Merry Mount," the servants probably made around 1,000 pounds each (5). The Puritans saw this success, and the popularity that came with it, as a threat.
William Bradford was unhappy with the reformations occurring in the Church of England, so he came to New England in 1620 on the Mayflower, having a profession as a weaver. But he became governor of Plymouth Plantation in 1621. He adorned Morton with the derogatory nickname, "Lord of Misrule," who ran a "School of Atheism" (Bradford 321). In 1630, after the first time Morton was sent to England, accused of selling guns to the Indians and then returned (due to a knight, Ferdinando Gorges, who needed someone to spy on the Separatists because he wanted New England as his fiefdom), Governor John Winthrop of the Massachusetts Bay Company's colony, joined with Bradford to keep Morton out of their hair (McWilliams 8-9). They charged Morton with "the stealing of a canoe" (10) from the Indians, and wrote letters to England accusing him of murder. That didn't work either -- he just told Gorges he was a "persecuted Anglican" (10). The men never settled their differences; after a third attempt at jailing Morton for a year, Winthrop, "urged him to leave Massachusetts" (11). He did, and died in 1647, at the age of 67, in Maine.
That was only a quick overview of the key players. Since it started with "Mare-Mount," let's explore the name itself....